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The 2021 King County Nonprofit Employee Engagement Report

Posted May 09, 2022 03:33 PM
Most nonprofit jobs require knowledge of the sector and professional expertise. This is reflected in the high education levels in the nonprofit workforce. However, community-based nonprofits tend to have lower pay levels compared to the government, philanthropy, education, and health care sectors. This makes it challenging to attract and retain well-qualified employees.

Nonprofits' ability to attract and retain employees is critical to their ability to produce strong client services. Due to the connection between low employee turnover and positive client results, the King County Veterans, Seniors & Human Services Levy (VSHSL) partnered with 501 Commons to conduct a thorough nonprofit employee engagement survey.

Nearly 1,200 nonprofit employees from 263 organizations completed the survey in 2021. The survey is based on the 501 Common's Nonprofit Climate Survey. It identifies both the wage and non-wage factors that contribute to high employee engagement and reduced turnover.

King County Employment Surveys

The 2021 King County Nonprofit Employee Engagement Report serves as a companion tool to the King County Nonprofit Wage & Benefits Report, which was also supported by the VSHSL. The Wage & Benefits Report provides data on salaries and benefits for 171 jobs. You can also access the data in the 501 Compensation Tracker, a searchable online tool.

Strengths and Weaknesses

The Employee Engagement Survey results were very positive, despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Overall, 86% of the responses were favorable or very favorable with regard to how employers treat their workers. The report provides insights into what attracts and retains employees in nonprofit jobs. The positive results mean the sector must focus on ways to strengthen the areas of weaker favorable responses, as well as the areas that were rated unfavorably.

The results point to these strengths:

  • Employees are proud of their work.
  • They feel their organization makes a positive impact.
  • Most employees feel they are treated with respect.
  • They have flexibility during the workday.
  • They feel empowered to make decisions in their job.

The report also identifies risk factors that cause employees to leave their organizations:

  • Pay and benefits levels.
  • Perceptions of equitable pay within their organization.
  • Lack of career advancement opportunities.
  • Workload and work stress.

Focus on Retaining Employees

It is much less expensive to retain a productive employee than it is to recruit a new one. Although it is important not to focus only on recruiting new employees when there is turnover. Managers need to be "re-recruiting" their current high-performing employees. The survey results point to ways employers can retain employees:

  • Provide flexible work arrangements.
  • Improve pay and benefits, or at least state your intention and plan to do so.
  • Provide resources for professional development, ways for employees to develop and use new skills, and advancement opportunities.
  • Recognize and celebrate employees. Build an appreciative organizational culture.
  • Offer different avenues for input and feedback.

While salary clearly plays a key role in employee retention, the good news is that it isn't the star player. In addition to working to raise additional funds to improve salaries, organizations should:

  • Clarify their compensation philosophy.
  • Benchmark salaries to similar nonprofits using the King County Nonprofit Wage and Benefits data.
  • Ensure that salaries are internally equitable and compliant with the Washington State Equal Pay and Opportunities Act.
  • Make compensation processes and policies as transparent as possible.

Individual Organization Reports are Available

If your organization had 5 or more survey respondents, request an individual survey report for your organization by contacting

Subject: “Employee Engagement Survey.”

You will be able to compare data from your staff with the full King County results.